Why are US Cos dictating policies for Indian firms: Paytm's Vijay Shekhar Sharma

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Google’s arbitrary action is a concern for our country and for the government since ours is not a gambling app, Sharma said.

Highlights

  • Founders are coming together and expressing huge concern. Together, we will be talking to the government and lawmakers.
  • There are questions on why US companies are dictating policies for Indian firms and what constitutes an Indian company.
  • Nasscom and IAMAI seem to be silent so far, and Paym's Vijay Shekhar Sharma hopes all industry organisations will act in India’s interests.
Paytm founder and CEO Vijay Shekhar Sharma has termed Google’s decision to briefly take down his company’s app from its Play Store last week as “arbitrary”. In a wide-ranging interview with ET’s Ashwin Manikandan, Aditi Shrivastava and Samidha Sharma, he outlined the fintech player’s next move to counter Google. Sharma also talked about the need for a brand new startup and tech grouping, local regulations for Big Tech, and a level playing field. Edited excerpts:

How are you addressing the issue of Google taking down the Paytm app?
We will go back to them officially as we’d like to know the reasons for what happened. Google’s arbitrary action is a concern for our country and for the government since ours is not a gambling app. I feel agitated…even if you follow local laws and regulations, Google can arbitrarily shut down your app.


Will you take legal recourse against Google?
All options are open. Every discussion will be held with an intention of resolution, not to stifle anyone’s business. We are not calling it a fight - they’re the one who started this and stopped our business. We have huge respect and regard for what Google has built. Legal recourse is defined by the law of the country. If the law is aligned to protect the interest of the country, there will be a recourse. I can assure you that is what the future will be.

You called it an ecosystem issue faced by many. So, what’s next?
Yes, we will bring the whole ecosystem together. Founders are coming together and expressing huge concern. Together, we will be talking to the government and lawmakers. We run in this universe controlled by an American organisation that dominates the Indian tech landscape and has a say on Indian businesses… With huge domination comes huge power, which obligates one to behave responsibly.

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What did you discuss with founders about addressing monopoly risks?
There are questions on why US companies are dictating policies for Indian firms and what constitutes an Indian company.

Paytm has a significant Chinese shareholder in Alibaba…
I want to state on record that an American company is a 100% owned subsidiary of a US incorporated company. A Chinese company is one that is a 100% subsidiary of a Chinese business, while an Indian company is one that has been built and operated in India with foreign investors.

You talked about the need for a grouping that will work to protect local tech companies. What about Nasscom and IAMAI?
Nasscom and IAMAI seem to be silent so far, and I hope all industry organisations will act in India’s interests .
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Entrepreneurs got together a few years ago and talked about how American tech companies were dumping capital in India. Nothing much happened then…
Last time, when companies came together, they were literally doing so for one sector (hunting for ecommerce), if you will. But this is a common existential problem for apps. In fact, I want to call out issues like net neutrality and zero rating. Many organisations were not comfortable in taking a stand on it. It’s not that they did not understand the issue, but because they were divided by a set of people and influenced by a few American tech companies.

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Is there a sense that India does not have a redressal framework to appeal against unilateral actions by Big Tech companies?
This is effectively a sanction by an American company on an Indian one and by extension, on Indian customers. And, the funny thing is, it doesn’t even fall under the country's legal ambit. Can I get the court to say anything in this case? No, it’s beyond their jurisdiction. Legal recourse of businesses in this country must be in this country. We need a framework where Google should have to take consent of Indian authorities before taking such action.

What are the policy and regulatory changes that the government can implement?
The government and its antitrust body, the Competition Commission of India (CCI), are strong; and they have shown it time and again. My recommendation is simple – if we are following the law of the land, how can an app store put a layer above the government and regulator? No American or foreign company should control the destiny of Indian startups.

In the US, there is an ongoing fight between Fortnite and Apple on the former’s takedown from Apple’s App Store…
Apple versus Fortnite is different because it’s a fight over the commission model. Google’s platform is the dominating consumer app platform in this country. Reportedly, about 97% of smartphone users in India use Google’s platform... I think it is an extraordinary situation.

Dominance of Big Tech platforms is not a problem specific to India. You have branded the move as being against the PM’s Atmanirbhar Bharat initiative. Why?
Countries with large economies can get these companies’ ear ...So, when you matter on a balance sheet you get heard. India is a trial ground, bully ground, ‘let me do what I want to do’ ground… Google can make policies, and their departments can arbitrarily enforce them as they please.

What are your expectations from this battle?
The point is that Google owns the gate and the gateway to the digital ecosystem of this country.My intent always is that Indian startups should get a level playing field.

Does Indian tech ecosystem have the power to change tech majors?
They will have to listen. The next billion users are coming from India. If the government takes an unfavourable view of the way they are doing business here, it can become very difficult. They will come to the negotiation table. India has that ability.
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